Tag Archives: karl barth

Book Note: Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies

In the last several decades, theological anthropology has witnessed a Christocentric turn. Whether it was Ray Anderson’s claim that “only the humanity of Christ… discloses the radical form of true humanity” (1982), John Zizioulas’s understanding that “the mystery of man reveals itself fully only in the light of Christ” (1975), or Millard Erickson’s belief that “Jesus reveals what human nature is intended to be” (1998) it seems as though the Christocentric turn in theological anthropology has made for a truly Christological anthropology. But what does it mean to say that one is doing Christological anthropology? Does it simply mean that Jesus sheds some light on our anthropology, maybe on our concept of imago dei or ethics? Or does it mean something more robust?

In Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, a book which is now almost ten years old, Marc Cortez begins to give shape to the project of constructing a more robust Christological anthropology which moves beyond issues of the imago dei and ethics. A few years later, in 2016 Cortez went on to claim that a robust Christological Anthropology is one in which “Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data.” (2016) However, in Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, Cortez doesn’t yet have that definition fully developed yet. Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies is something like a case study in which the method of doing Christological anthropology begins to get fleshed out.

So how does Cortez go about developing his robust Christological anthropology? He turns to the theology of Karl Barth. Cortez spends the first few chapters of Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies explaining why Barth believed that human nature must be explained in reference to Jesus. Cortez concludes that for Barth, Christ’s significance for anthropology is primarily grounded in (1) the election of Jesus Christ in which other humans are included and (2) the covenantal faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Building on these insights Cortez draws out eight features that he takes to be Barth’s anthropological commitments. At minimum, any Barthian Christological anthropology must include the following eight features:

  1. A strong concept of selfhood emphasizing humans as subjects constituted by particular relationships
  2. An inner life comprised of self-conscious experiences
  3. An understating of continuous personal identity that involves the body and the soul but is ultimately dependent on divine faithfulness
  4. An appreciation of humans as capable of initiating intentional actions
  5. Some view of mentality that allows a causal relationship with extra-mental realities
  6. An awareness of humanity’s determination and freedom
  7. A strong appreciation for the role of the body in every facet of human experience
  8. A recognition that all aspects of human life and nature are contingent realities

With these eight features in place, Cortez turns his attention toward the mind-body debate in contemporary philosophy. Cortez suggests that Barth’s eight Christological criteria for theological anthropology might help to evaluate contemporary proposals about the mind’s relation to the body. In chapter five he evaluates several physicalist options about human constitution. He concludes that for Barth, given his eight criteria, reductive physicalism is off the table. However, non-reductive physicalisms may have some promise if they can account for mental causation, consciousness, and the continuity of personal identity through death and resurrection. In chapter six Cortez turns to several dualist accounts of human constitution. He concludes, that a strong Cartesian dualism is a non-starter for Barth. However, some forms of what Cortez calls Holistic Dualism, might be promising if they can account for mental causation, personal embodiment, and the utter dependence of the soul on God for its existence.

Cortez’s evaluation of recent proposals regarding the mind-body relationship are quite helpful for several reasons. First, chapters five and six provide excellent summaries of various physicalisms and dualisms. These chapters help those not at home in these debates get a grasp on the issues being discussed. Second, and more importantly, Cortez makes a convincing case that given the eight minimalist Christological criteria some forms of physicalism or dualism might be legitimate options for Christians. This is something that people on both sides of the mind-body debate need to hear. In recent years I have encountered numerous theologians who claim that any form of dualism is sub-Christian because it doesn’t take seriously our embodiment. This might be true of some dualisms, but Cortez shows that this is not necessarily true of all dualisms. For example, emergent dualism gives a very robust role to the body; after all the mind “emerges” from a properly organized physical system, i.e. the body. Perhaps these theologians are simply unaware of the variety of dualist options and hastily assume that any talk of “dualism” must mean a form of strong Cartesian dualism.

Besides providing us with the conclusion that Christology can give us minimalist criteria for reflecting upon the relationship between the mind and body, Cortez makes several other important contributions to the field of theological anthropology. First he shows us that Christology’s contribution to theological anthropology need not be limited to ethics or discussions about the imago dei; it can be applied to other aspects of human existence. Second, he shows us that applying Christological insights to our anthropological understanding is no easy task. In all honesty, I wish he would have devoted more attention to the challenge of deriving anthropology from Christology. However, I can’t blame him for not doing this. I understand that this book was something of a first pass at a more robust Christological anthropology. Even still, I hope he addresses these challenges in his forthcoming book on Christological anthropology.

(Note: This was originally posted on Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.)

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Agape and the Long Defeat – George Hunsinger

Saturday’s first plenary was delivered by George Hunsinger. He is the McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his degrees at Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. He is most noted for being a leading expert on Karl Barth. His paper brought together two, (to my knowledge) conversation partners that have never been brought together, namely Tolkien and Barth.

Introduction

  • Tolkien as “author of the century”
  • Like Tolkien, Barth can be considered “century’s greatest theologian”
  • Little work has been done to compare the two
  • 1st – how Barth understands agape, 2nd – meaning of evil, 3- eschatology of agape

barth

Meaning of Agape

  • Not benevolence, beneficence, compassion
  • Agape has these but adds – a desire to give oneself, union w/other, self giving for the sake of koinonia
  • Summary of Agape
    • God’s loving is concerned w/a seeking and creation of fellowship for its own sake by loving us in JC – God take us up into fellowship/communion that God enjoys as Holy Trinity
    • God’s loving us is concerned is w/o reference to aptitude or worthiness of the object of love. God’s agape is not conditioned by any prior reciprocity of love. God doesn’t love us b/c we are lovable, lovable because he loves us.
    • God’s loving is an end in itself. God doesn’t even will his own glory for his own sake, but for the sake of his agape. God loves b/c he loves. His agape is the supreme end which includes all other ends in itself.
    • God’s agape is necessary. It belongs to him primordially and by definition. Its eternal as God is eternal in his triune life.

The Mystery of Evil in Barth and Tolkien

  • Convergences exist in their depiction of evil. See Barth and Nothingness vs. Witch King of Angmar – the Lord of the Nazgul
  • Nothingness – act of cosmic power, destruction, chaos, ruin. Its inexplicable, can’t be explained only described. Origin is obscure, but effects are not. The impossible possibility. Actual yet empty at the same time. God did not create it. God defeats it at great cost to himself. No right to exist, serves no greater good. Not means to some higher end.
    • The answer to the problem of evil is not an argument but a name
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Nazgul captures something of Barth’s Nothingness.
    • Conflicted and absurd, actual and empty simultaneously,
    • Good symbol of Barth’s impossible possibility
    • Image for the paradox of evil, powerful yet hollow at the same time.

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Eschatology of Agape

  • Tolkien writes w/ idea that evil must be fought w/knowledge that we cannot ultimately defeat evil. “We have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete, evil rises again, even victory brings loss. But the long defeat is not the last word.
    • There can be no true theology of glory divorced from the theology of the cross.
    • For Paul agape cannot be divorced from longsuffering

Views on God’s Wrath in Romans 1

This week I’m preaching on Romans 1:18-32 – probably one of the most culturally offensive passages of scripture – but also one of the most important for it shows us the reality of God’s wrath against sinful humanity.

One of the more “offensive” parts is that God is a God of wrath. Culture hates this. The general public refuses to see any anger in God and opts instead for a pale-version of love. A love that has no regard for right or wrong or justice. But God’s wrath is certainly in the Bible and its super clear in Romans 1:18. So what is God’s wrath in this verse? Here are a few options:

  • It is God’s handing of people over to the natural outworking of their sinful behavior in the present time. – Moo
  • It is what is revealed in the preaching of the gospel, for the preaching of the cross is what makes know the seriousness of sin that calls for God’s wrath and the grace of God in producing salvation. – Barth
  • It is the future pouring out of God’s wrath.
  • It is both the present outworking and future judgment. – Dunn

Its this last option which the most attractive for it captures the overarching narrative of scripture well and it also takes account of what is presently being revealed (1:18) and the notion that wrath is being stored up for a future day (2:5).

Missional Preaching in a Post-Christendom World

How can preaching inspire and shape a church to share the goodness of God in Jesus Christ with neighbors near and far, in words and deeds? How can reaching equip and send the people of God to be the people of God in the world and for the world? Because the only way the world will possibly believe this good news is if they see a community of people who live it and invite them to live in it too. This is the hope of missional preaching. (The Mission of Preaching, 28)

At the beginning of the year I sensed that the Lord wanted me to spend some more time studying and improving my skills in preaching. This goes hand in hand with the larger call upon my life to help equip the church for mission. When I saw that Patrick Johnson wrote a book titled The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness I knew that I was supposed to read this book.

Summary

Without a doubt the Western church lives in an era for which we are largely unprepared. We now life in a missionary context. I could tell you story after story about this. The fact is that nowadays many people are no longer even de-churched rather they are completely un-churched. This simple fact forces us to consider how preaching in this missionary context differs from preaching in a Christendom context. Johnson suggests that we need to reconsider homiletics in light of this missionary context. He proposes a missional homiletic:

Preaching confesses Jesus Christ through a missional interpretation of scripture in order to equip the congregation for its confession to the world.

Johnson fleshes out what this means through three chapters. He begins by examining the work of three homileticians who see preaching as a form of bearing testimony or bearing witness. Each of these proposals have their own strengths and weaknesses but in Johnson’s opinion, their greatest strength is that they all make a strong case for preaching as a form of testimony. Johnson also devotes a chapter to Barth’s missional theology. Barth’s Trinitarian theology forms a sort of foundation for an ecclesiology which emphasizes the missional nature of the church. For Barth, the commission given to the Church and to individual Christians is to bear witness to Christ. This forms the basis for a missional church and missional preaching. Johnson also devotes a chapter to studying the literature produced by various leaders in the missional church movement. He focuses primarily on Treasures in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional faithfulness. From this book he describes various patterns and characteristics of the missional church. This serves as a further basis for his development of the missional homiletic.

Johnson wraps up his discussion of missional homiletics by reminding the reader that a missional hermeneutic must interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, it must take seriously the formative intent of scripture, it must address the vocational locatedness of the local congregation. All of this must be done in service of equipping the congregation for its confession in the world. As the preacher preaches scripture in light of this hermeneutic, he or she will be in a better position to act as a witness to Christ that equips his/her congregation to be effective witnesses for Christ in whatever context they find themselves in.

Pros:

I absolutely loved this book! It was very well researched, i.e. it engages with various views on the purpose of preaching. It is theologically sophisticated, dealing in depth with Karl Barth’s theology. And most helpfully for preachers like me, it is extremely practical. Now this book doesn’t give a bunch of how to steps to missional preaching, it does provide patterns and images of what missional preaching might look like. In other words it provides great examples in order to stoke the preachers imagination as to what missional preaching will look like. What I appreciate most about this book is that it is one of the few books that specifically treat this ever so necessary topic – preaching in a missionary context. If I could I would put this book in every young preacher’s hands. More and more preachers are going to have to deal with the reality of preaching in this post-Christendom world, and they will most definitely need guidance for how to face this new challenge.

Cons:

There is very little to critique in this book. One could critique some of the position of those that Johnson interacts with (for instance how several of the homileticians Johnson studies prioritize the authority of the preacher’s interaction with scripture over the authority of scripture itself), however that would not be very productive. My biggest critique of this book is the absence of any interaction with Karl Barth’s lectures on homiletics. If Barth really holds to a missional hermeneutic, this should certainly show up in these Barth’s lectures on homiletics. Johnson should have devoted some space to these lectures.

Conclusion

This post-Christendom context that we find ourselves in today will require change, not only in the preacher himself and how he preaches, but also in his understanding of the purpose of preaching. The preacher will have to add to his other preaching identities (herald, pastor, witness) the identity of equipper. This book will help him to do that. Hopefully those who read this book will be better equipped themselves to equip the church for the sake of mission.

Faith, Freedom, and The Spirit

Several years ago Paul Molnar wrote a book on Divine Freedom and the doctrine of the Immanent Trinity – now he adds to his works on the Trinity by offering us a book on Freedom and the economic Trinity (specifically in Barth, Torrance, and contemporary theology).

Summary

Molnar’s aim in this book is to explore divine and human relations within the economy of salvation with a major emphasis being placed upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He seeks to demonstrate how our experience of and knowledge of God changes when it is considered in light of the sphere of faith in God’s Word and Spirit as revealed within the economy.

He focuses in on the Holy Spirit as the thing which enables us to have faith in and know God. However his religious epistemology is not merely grounded in our experience of God in the economy. He argues that any articulation of who God is and what our relationship with God is like must begin by articulating who God is in himself (immanent Trinity) in order to even speak clearly about who God is for us what God does in the economy of salvation. Otherwise we allow history and experience dictate the content of our theology. When this happens the result is that God and revelation tend to become indistinguishable from own own experience within the economy. According to Molnar this is a problem that many recent interpreters of Barth (including Bruce McCormack and Ben Myers) run into.

There are several ways Molnar sees this in recent interpretations of Barth. One is the discussion about Trinity and election. Molnar argues that one cannot reverse the direction between election and Trinity without doing damage to our knowledge of Christ’s true deity and humanity. Those who take election to be first are out of line with what Barth thought. (Molnar thinks that Barth did not change his Christology – still believed God would be God without incarnation or even without creation.) To reverse Trinity and election undermines God’s freedom for us and our freedom which is only enabled by God himself. Also rejecting the Logos Asarkos (which some recent Barth interpreters do) undermines Jesus’ deity and makes God dependent upon history.

Human freedom is the freedom to live by the grace of God. If God’s grace is not free (as historicized theology makes it) then we are not truly free. Thus our freedom is based upon God’s own freedom.

Thoughts

Molnar makes a powerful argument for traditional historic positions on the doctrine of God. Whereas many Barth scholars have moved towards a more revisionist reading of our faith Molnar keeps us grounded in the historic doctrines of the church. Specifically he steers us away from historicized versions of the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology. He ensures that God is in no way dependent upon creation or reconciliation for his own identity. This allows us to speak of a Triune God who is truly free. This will be a must read book for anyone interested in the Election/Trinity debate and recent discussions which seek to get rid of the Logos Asarkos. This book deserves to be read by anyone interested in staying faithful to the historic understanding of who God really is.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Karl Barth’s Letter to Diognetus

Letter to DiognetusThe god of the philosophers. A lot of people have beef with this “god.” With good reason too – God cannot come to be known through pure rationality. With that much I agree. I do believe that philosophy has an important role in articulating our theological convictions, but I would never say that philosophical reflection can lead us to true beliefs about our Trinitarian God. Knowledge of God is rooted in God’s revelation of himself. Only God can reveal God and we can known nothing about God unless God has chosen to reveal himself to us. This is the same argument that the author of the Letter to Diognetus makes to Diognetus:

As a matter of fact, before he [Christ] came, what man had any knowledge of God at all?  2Or do you really accept the idle nonsense talked by those plausible philosophers, some of whom asserted that God was fire—the very thing that they are on the point of going to, they call God!—while others claimed that he was water, and others said that he was yet another one of the elements created by God?  3And yet, if any one Of these lines of argument is acceptable, then each and every one of the other creatures could in the same way be shown to be God.  4No, this is just quackery and deceit practiced by wizards.  5No man has ever seen God or made him known, but he has manifested himself… (The Letter to Diognetus 8:1-5)

Christ is God’s word – without Christ there is no knowledge of God – revelation is God’s self-revelation of himself. Christianity is not a human attempt to find God, rather it is founded on God’s revelation of himself, it is founded upon the Word. With this much Karl Barth could agree. Maybe he wrote the letter to Diognetus, because it sure sounds like something he would say. (JK)

Karl Barth on The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

In laying out Barth’s position on the Lord’s Supper we cannot properly speak of “Barth’s position” because Barth ended his Church Dogmatics (henceforth CD) before touching upon the Lord’s Supper (henceforth LS) extensively,[1] thus any reconstruction of Barth’s position is just that, a reconstruction and not an exposition. However what we can say with certainty that for Barth, Jesus Christ the Word, is the sacrament. For revelation means the giving of signs, thus “revelation means sacrament, i.e., the self-witness of God… in the form of creaturely objectivity and therefore in a form which is adapted to our creaturely knowledge.”[2] Keeping in mind that Jesus Christ is the true sacrament we shall look at several places in CD in which Barth talks about the LS.

Karl Barth enjoying a cigar.
Karl Barth enjoying a cigar.

In CD IV.4 Barth explains that baptism is not a sacrament, but its meaning is found in its character “as a true and genuine human action which responds to the divine act and word.”[3] In understanding Barth’s stance towards the sacrament of baptism we might come to understand his views about the LS. By examining Zwingli’s exegetical work regarding baptism, Barth points out that Zwingli was basically right, that the meaning of the ceremony is found in human action, in the performance of the ceremony. Thus Barth says that he does not object if someone calls his own views “Neo-Zwinglian.”[4] Barth goes on to explain the LS is also a human decision and an act whose value consists human decision to respond to divine work.[5]

In CD IV.4 Barth also talks about the Holy Spirit feeding the believer with the body and blood of Christ. He says that Christ’s body and blood nourishes the believer.[6] Although he seems to be using LS language it is not clear that this is referring to the LS, for the context of this passage is the ongoing process of sanctification, not any one particular act.

In CD IV.3 also makes several references to the LS. In one section he mentions that Christ calls the elect to himself, conjoining himself to them. Barth says that the Lord’s Supper is “instituted to represent this perfect fellowship between Him and them which He has established.”[7] Thus in the Lord’s Supper the Christian celebrates, adores, and proclaims what Christ has done for them, namely redemption.

Finally, another important passage on the Lord’s Supper is found in CD IV.3. In this section he talks about the Word and the Lord’s Supper. Barth says that human words can acquire a function and capability that they did not have in themselves as elements of general human speech; once they are about the Word, they are received and claimed by the Word of God.[8] God uses human words, even though they are limited due to their creatureliness, for the service of His Word, God gives them power to bear witness to His Word. Barth says that the Lord’s Supper is similar to how God uses human words to bear witness to God’s Word. The elements of the LS do not cease to be what they are, bread and wine, but they now serve the “function and capability” of indicating and confirming the fellowship of the community with its Lord.[9]

According to these passages, especially the previous passage, it seems as though Barth’s position is conditioned by his theology of revelation and the Word. Barth believes that humans cannot know God unless God reveals himself to them. He believes that God reveals himself in his Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Word of God, is God himself revealing himself. Thus scripture does not truly reveal God, scripture serves as a witness to the Word, the revelation of God himself. Similarly the LS is not where we encounter God. The LS simply serves as a witness to the Word. The Lord’s Supper serves as a witness to the Jesus by indicating and confirming the reconciliation that Jesus has brought to the elect. So when the elect practice the LS, they bear witness to the Word and confirm to themselves and each other what Jesus has done for them and is doing for them, he has reconciled them to himself and he is sanctifying them.

—————————————

[1] James Buckley, “Christian Community, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 196.

[2] Buckley, “Christian Community, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper,” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 201-2.

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.4 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, trans. G.W. Bromiley (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 30:126.

[4] Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.4 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, 127.

[5] Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.4 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, 128.

[6] Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.4 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, 37.

[7] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.3.2 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, trans. G.W. Bromiley (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 28: 169.

[8]Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.3.2 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, trans. G.W. Bromiley (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 29: 55.

[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: IV.3.2 the Doctrine of Reconciliation, 29: 55.